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Pharmacognosy Reviews

Vol 1, Issue 1, Jan-May, 2007

2007 Phcog.Net , All rights reserved.
Available online: 69
An official Publication of Phcog.Net

PHCOG REV.: Review Article
Plant Cell Elicitation for Production of Secondary Metabolites:
A Review
Namdeo A. G.*
Department of Phyto-Biotechnology and Pharmacognosy,
Centre for Advanced Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences,
Poona College of Pharmacy, Bharati Vidyapeeth University, Erandwane,
PUNE - 411038 (M.S.) INDIA

Pharmaceutically significant secondary metabolites or phytopharmaceuticals include alkaloids, glycosides, flavonoids, volatile
oils, tannins, resins etc. Currently, most of these secondary metabolites are isolated from wild or cultivated plants because their
chemical synthesis is either extremely difficult or economically infeasible. Biotechnological production in plant cell cultures is an
attractive alternative, but to date this has had only limited commercial success because of a lack of understanding of how these
metabolites are synthesized. Plants and/or plant cells in vitro, show physiological and morphological responses to microbial,
physical or chemical factors which are known as elicitors. Elicitation is a process of induced or enhanced synthesis of secondary
metabolites by the plants to ensure their survival, persistence and competitiveness. Here, we discuss the classification of
elicitors, their mechanism of action, and applications for the production of phyto-pharmaceuticals from medicinal plants.
KEY WORDS: Biotic-Abiotic elicitors, Elicitation, Phyto-pharmaceuticals, Plant cell cultures, Secondary metabolites

Plants form an important part of our everyday diet, and plant
constituents and their nutritional value have been intensively
studied for decades. In addition to essential primary
metabolites (e.g. carbohydrates, lipids and amino acids),
higher plants are also able to synthesize a wide variety of low
molecular weight compounds the secondary metabolites.
Plant secondary metabolites can be defined as compounds
that have no recognized role in the maintenance of
fundamental life processes in the plants that synthesize them,
but they do have an important role in the interaction of the
plant with its environment. The production of these
compounds is often low (less than 1% dry weight) and depends
greatly on the physiological and developmental stage of the
plant (1, 2).
Higher plants are rich source of bioactive constituents or
phyto-pharmaceuticals used in pharmaceutical industry. Some
of the plant derived natural products include drugs such as
morphine, codeine, cocaine, quinine etc; anti-cancer
Catharanthus alkaloids, belladonna alkaloids, colchicines,
phytostigminine, pilocarpine, reserpine and steroids like
diosgenin, digoxin and digitoxin. Many of these
pharmaceuticals are still in use today and often no useful
synthetic substitutes have been found that possess the same
efficacy and pharmacological specificity (3). Currently one-
fourth of all prescribed pharmaceuticals in industrialized
countries contain compounds that are directly or indirectly,
via semi-synthesis, derived from plants. Furthermore, 11% of
the 252 drugs considered as basic and essential by WHO are
exclusively derived from flowering plants (4). Plant-derived
drugs in western countries also represent a huge market
value. Prescription drugs containing phytochemicals were
valued at more than US$30 billion in 2002 in the USA alone
(5). Many plants containing high-value compounds are difficult
to cultivate or are becoming endangered because of over-
harvesting (4). Furthermore, the chemical synthesis of plant-
derived compounds is often not economically feasible because
of their highly complex structures and the specific
stereochemical requirements of the compounds. The
biotechnological production of valuable secondary
metabolites in plant cell or organ cultures is an attractive
alternative to the extraction of whole plant material.
However, the use of plant cell or organ cultures has had only
limited commercial success. This is explained by the empirical
nature of selecting high-yielding, stable cultures and the lack
of understanding of how secondary metabolites are
synthesized or how their synthesis is regulated (6, 7). Many
biotechnological strategies have been hypothesized and
experimented for enhanced production of secondary
metabolites from medicinal plants. Some of these include
screening of high yielding cell line, media modification,
precursor feeding, elicitation, large scale cultivation in
bioreactor system, hairy root culture, plant cell
immobilization, biotransformation and others (8-12).
Cell cultures have been established from many plants but
often they do not produce sufficient amounts of the required
secondary metabolites (11, 13). However, in many cases the
production of secondary metabolites can be enhanced by the
treatment of the undifferentiated cells with elicitors such as
methyljasmonate, salicylic acid, chitosan and heavy metals
(14-16). In some cases, secondary metabolites are only
produced in organ cultures such as hairy root or shooty
teratoma (tumor-like) cultures. For example, hairy roots
produce high levels of alkaloids (7), whereas shooty teratomas
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produce monoterpenes (17). However, there are a few
examples of using plant cells as factories successfully to
produce high-value secondary metabolites. These include
shikonin production by cell suspension cultures of
Lithospermum erythrorhizon and berberine production by cell
cultures of Coptis japonica (18). Rosmarinic acid production
by cell cultures of Coleus blumeii has also been achieved on a
large scale, and sanguinarine, which has market potential in
oral hygiene products, has been produced by cell cultures of
Papaver somniferum (19, 20). An example of a high-value
drug produced partially from plant cell cultures is paclitaxel,
an anti-cancer drug originally extracted from the bark of 50
60 year old Pacific yew trees (Taxus brevifolia). In spite of
these few successful cases, the production of secondary
metabolites in cell or organ cultures is far from trivial and
several technical bottlenecks such as low productivity and
process technological issues (e.g. bioreactors and cultivation
conditions) need to be solved. This review discusses
elicitation as an approach for enhanced production of
secondary metabolites from medicinal plants. Definition of
elicitors, classification of elicitors, mechanism of elicitation,
characteristics of elicitors and their application on medicinal
plants have been highlighted.
Elicitors and Elicitation
An elicitor may be defined as a substance which, when
introduced in small concentrations to a living cell system,
initiates or improves the biosynthesis of specific compounds.
Elicitation is the induced or enhanced biosynthesis of
metabolites due to addition of trace amounts of elicitors (21).
Classification of Elicitors
Elicitors can be classified on the basis of their nature like
abiotic elicitors or biotic elicitors, or on the basis their
origin like exogenous elicitors and endogenous elicitors.
Table 1 represents the classification of elicitors. Abiotic
elicitors are the substances of non-biological origin,
predominantly inorganic salts, and physical factors acting as
elicitors like Cu and Cd ions, Ca
and high pH whereas biotic
elicitors are substances with biological origin, they include
polysaccharides derived from plant cell walls (pectin or
cellulose) and micro-organisms (chitin or glucans) and
glycoproteins or G-protein or intracellular proteins whose
functions are coupled to receptors and act by activating or
inactivating a number of enzymes or ion channels (22).
Exogenous elicitors are substances originated outside the
cell like polysaccharides, polyamines and fatty acids whereas
endogenous elicitors are substances originated inside the
cell like galacturonide or hepta--glucosides etc. Examples of
biotic and abiotic elicitors for secondary metabolite
production have been presented in Table 2 and Table 3
Mechanism of elicitation in plant cells
Elicitor for a plant refers to chemical from various sources
that can trigger physiological and morphological responses
and phytoalexin accumulation. It may include abiotic elicitors
such as metal ions and inorganic compounds and biotic
elicitors from fungi, bacteria or herbivores, plant cell wall
fragments as well as chemicals that are released at attack
site by plants upon pathogen or herbivore attack. It is well
known that the treatment of plants with elicitors or attack by
incompatible pathogen causes an array of defense reactions,
including the accumulation of a range of plant defensive
secondary metabolites in intact plants or in plant cell
cultures. Even after the intensive research on the effect of
biotic and abiotic elicitors on the production of secondary
metabolites in plants, the exact mechanism of elicitation is
poorly understood. Various mechanisms in this regard have
been hypothesized like messenger Ca
, factors affecting cell
membrane integrity, inhibition/ activation of intracellular
pathways and changes in osmotic stress etc.
This review summarizes some general mechanism of
biochemical responses performed by plant or plant cells when
challenged by the elicitor. Some researchers hypothesized the
binding of the elicitor to a plasma membrane receptor for
elicitation process (63-68). The Ca
influx to the cytoplasm
from the extracellular environment and intracellular Ca
reservoirs was reported by Gelli et. al. (69). Some groups
highlighted the rapid changes in protein phosphorylation
patterns and protein kinase activation as mechanism of
elicitation (70-72). While others observed mitogen-activated
protein kinase (MAPK) stimulation and G-protein activation
(73-78). Armero and Tena (79) suggested cytoplasm
acidification caused by H
-ATPase inactivation, whereas the
decrease in membrane polarization, extracellular increase of
pH has been reported in elicitor treated plant tissues Pugin
et. al. (80) and Bolwell et. al. (81). Apostol et. al. (82)
explained the production of ROS such as the superoxide anion
and H2O2 that might have a direct antimicrobial effect as well
as contributing to the generation of bioactive fatty acid
derivatives. Similar observation of ROS involvement in the
cross-linking of cell-wall-bound proline-rich proteins H2O2 can
act as a secondary messenger and it is involved in the
transcriptional activation of defence genes (83). In another
hypothesis, accumulation of defence-related proteins
pathogenesis related proteins such as chitinases and
glucanases, endopolygalacturonases that contribute to the
release of signalling pectic oligomers (endogenous elicitors),
hydroxyproline-rich glycoproteins, and protease inhibitors
(84). Hypersensitive response to cell death at the infection
site was observed by some groups (64, 76-78). Transcriptional
activation of the corresponding defense response genes for
elicitation process has been reported (85-89). The exact
mechanism of elicitation is the study of these events and
their interconnection and intercorrelation between them is
highly complex and is still under investigation. All elicitors do
not follow the same sequence of events but varies with their
origin, specificity, concentration, physiochemical
environment, stage of their growth cycle, nutritional uptake
Characteristics of Elicitors
The enhanced production of the secondary metabolites from
plant cell cultures through elicitation has opened up a new
area of research which could have important economical
benefits for pharmaceutical industry. Several parameters such
as elicitor concentration and selectivity, duration of elicitor
exposure, age of culture, cell line, growth regulation,
nutrient composition, quality of cell wall materials,
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Table 1. Classification of elicitor for the production of secondary metabolites

A) Nature of Elicitor
Biotic elicitors Abiotic elicitors
- Directly released by microorganisms and
recognized by the plant cell (enzymes,
cell wall fragments)
- Formed by action of microorganisms on
plant cell wall (fragments of pectins etc.)
- Formed by the action of plant enzymes on
microbial cell walls (chitosan, glucans)
- Compounds, endogenous and constitutive in
nature, formed or released by the plant cell
in response to various stimuli.
- Of physical or chemical nature working via
endogenously formed biotic elicitors
- UV light
- Windfall
- Denatured proteins (RNase)
- Freezing and thawing cycles
- Non essential components of media (agarose, tin, etc.)
- Heavy metals
- Chemicals
- With high affinity to DNA
- With membrane-destroying
activities like
detergents: xenobiochemicals
- Fungicides (Maneb, Butylamine,
- Herbicides (Acifluorofen)
B) Origin of Elicitor
Exogenous elicitors Endogenous elicitors
- originated outside the cell, including the reaction
immediately or via endogenous mediators
- Polysaccharides: Glucomannose, Glucans, Chitosan
- Peptides as poly cations: Monilicolin, Poly-L-lysine,
Polyamines, Glycoproteins
- As enzymes: Polygalacturonase, Endo-
polygalacturonic acid lyase, Cellulase
- Fatty acids: Arachidonic acid, Eicosapentanoic acid
- formed via secondary reactions induced by a signal of
biotic or abiotic nature in the cell - dodeca--1,4-D-
- hepta--glucosides
- alginate oligomers

Figure 1. Chemical structures of some compounds commonly used as elicitors for the elicitation of secondary
metabolites from plant cells.

Methyl jasmonate
Salicylic acid
Diethyl amino ethyl dichloro phenyl ether
Arachidonic acid
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Table 2. Biotic elicitors and production of secondary metabolites

Sl. No. Plant species Product Biotic Elicitor Reference
1. Arabidopsis Camalexin, indole glucosinolates Erwinia carotovora. (23)
2. Bidens pilosa Phenylheptaryn Fungal culture filtrate (14)
3. Brugmansia candida Hyosujamine Hemicellulase (24)
4. Capsicum annuum Capsidol Cellulase (25)
5. Catharanthus roseus Indole alkaloids Fungal elicitor (26)
6. Catharanthus roseus N-acetyl-tryptamine Pythium aphanidermatum (27)
7. Catharanthus roseus Ajmalicine Trichoderma viride (10)
8. Carthamus tinctorius Polyacetylenes Fungal polysaccharide (28)
9. Cicer arientium Medicarpin, Maackiain Ascochyta rabiei (29)
10. Cupressus lusitanica Beta-thujaplicin Fungal elicitor (30)
11. Datura stramonium Lubimin Fungal spores (31)
12. Dioscorea deltoidea Steroid (Diosgenin) Fungal mycelia (32)
13. Glycine max Glyceollin Fungal glucan (33)
14. L. erythrorhizon Shikonin Agaropectin (34)
15. Medicago sativa Isoflavonoid C. indemuthianum (35)
16. Medicago sativa Phytoalexins Fungal elicitor (36)
17. Medicago truncatula Beta-amyrin Yeast elicitor (37)
18. Papaver somniferum Morphine, codeine Vertcillium dahliae (38)
19. Petroselinum crispum Enzymes Fungal Elicitor (39)
20. Phaseolus vulgaris Krevitone Fungal polysaccharide (40)
21. Ruta graveolens Rutacridone epoxide Chitosan (41)
22. Salvia miltiorrhiza Diterpenoid tanshinones Yeast elicitor (42)
23. Silybum marianum Silymarin, Yeast extract (43)
24. Various plant cells Enzymes and sec. metabolites Erwinia carotovora (44)

Table 3. Abiotic elicitors and production of secondary metabolites
Plant species Abiotic Elicitor Product Reference
1. Arabidopsis Oxidative stress, amino acid starvation Camalexin (45)
2. Atropa belladona Cu
, Cd
Tropane alkaloids (46)
3. Catharanthus roseus Diethyl amino ethyl dichloro phenyl ether Indole alkaloids (46)
4. Catharanthus roseus Vanadium sulphate Catharanthine (47)
5. Capsicum annuum Arachidonic acid Capsidiol, Rishitin (48)
6. Capsicum frutescens Curdlan, Xanthan Capsaicin (49)
7. Coleus blumei Methyl jasmonate (MeJA) Rosmarinic acid (50)
8. Coleus forskolin Methyl jasmonate (MeJA) Forskolin (51)
9. Cupressus lusitanica Methyl jasmonate (MeJA) -thujaplicin (30)
10. Datura stramonium Metal ions: Al
, Cr
, Co
, Zn
Sesquiterpenoids (52)
11. Daucus carota Salicylic acid Chitinase (53)
12. Glycyrrhiza echinata Na-alginate Echinatin (54)
13. Hyoscyamus albus Copper sulphate Phytoalexin (55)
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14. Hyoscyamus albus Methyl jasmonate (MeJA) Phytoalexins (56)
15. L. erythrorhizon Activated carbon Benzoquinone (34)
16. Medicago truncatula Methyl jasmonate (MeJA), UV light Triterpene -amyrin (32)
17. Panax ginseng Low-energy ultrasound Saponins (57)
18. Rauvolfia canescens Jasmonic acid Secondary metabolites (58)
19. Silybum marianum Methyl jasmonate (MeJA) Silymarin (43)
20. T. canadensis, T. cuspidata Methyl jasmonate (MeJA) Taxoids (59)
21. T. wallichiana Methyl jasmonate (MeJA) Taxanes (51)
22. Taxus chinensis Trifluoroethyl salicylate (TFESA) Taxuyunnanine C (Tc) (60)
23. Taxus spp. Arachidonic acid Taxol (61)
24. Valeriana wallichii Colchicine Valepotriates (62)

Table 4. Secondary metabolite production by cell cultures of medicinal plants
S. No. Secondary metabolite Plant Elicitor Reference
1. 5'-phosphodiesterase (PDase) Catharanthus roseus Alteromonas macleodii,
Alginate oligomers
2. Acridone expoxide Ruta gravelones Fungal poly saccharide (41)
a) Pythium sp. (106)
b)Yeast elicitor, MeJA (107,108)
c) Trichoderma viride (10, 91)
d)Pythium aphanidermatum (96)
3. Ajmalicine Catharanthus roseus
e) Jasmonic acid (26)
4. Alkaloids (tropane) Datura stramonium Phytopthora megasperma (109)
5. Anthraquinones Morinda citrifolia Chitin 50 (110)
6. azadirachtin Azadirachta indica Jasmonic acid, salicylic acid (111)
7. Berberine Thalictrum rugosum Sacharomyces cerevisiae (149)
8. Capsidiol Capsicum annum Trichoderma viride (112)
Phytopthora cryptogea (113)
Yeast extract (114)
Cryptogein (115)
9. Capsidiol, debneyol, scopoletin,
Nicotiana tabacum
Cellulase, MeJA (116)
10. Codeine, morphine Papaver somniferum Fungal spores (38)
11. Diosgenin Dioscorea deltoida Rhizopus arrhizus (32)
12. Diterpenoid tanshinones Salvia miltiorrhiza Yeast elicitor (117)
13. Glyceollins, apigenin, genistein,
Glycine max -glucan, MeJA (118, 119)
14. Hyoscyamine, scopolamine Hyoscyamus niger, H. muticus Fungal elicitor, MeJA (120)
15. Indole glucosinolates, Camalexin Arabidopsis thaliana Fungal, MeJA (23)
16. Isoflavonoids Lotus corniculatus Glutathione (121)
17. Kinobeon A Carthamus tinctorius Blue green algae (122)
18. Methoxymellein, 4-hydroxybenzoic
Dacus carota Fungal elicitor (123, 124, 125)
19. Raucaffrincine Rauwolfia canescens Yeast elicitor, MeJA (58, 126)
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20. Rishitin Jimson weed Copper sulphate (127)
21. Rosmarinic acid Coleus blumei Yeast elicitor (50)
22. Rosmarinic acid Ocimum basilicum Aspergillus niger (128)
23. Salidroside Rhodiola sachalinensis Aspergillus niger, Coriolus versicolor,
Ganoderma lucidum

24. Sanguinarine Eschscholtzia californica Yeast extract (130)
25. Sanguinarine Papaver bracteatum Dendryphion (131)
26. Sanguinarine Sanguinaria canadensis Verticillum dahliae (132)
27. Saponin Panax ginseng Oligogalacturonic acid
Low energy ultra sound
(52, 133, 134)
28. Scopoletin Lycopersicon esculentum Fungal elicitor, MeJA (135)
29. Scopoletin Ammi majus Enterobacter sakazaki (136)
30. Sesquiterpenes Hyoscyamus muticus Rhizoctonia solani (120)
31. Shikonin Lithospermum erythrorhizon Endogenous source (137)
32. Soyasaponin
Glycyrrhiza glabra MeJA (138)
33. Stilbene, resveratrol, anthocyanins Vitis vinifera MeJA, ethylene (139, 140)
34. tanshinone Salvia miltiorrhiza hyperosmotic stress, yeast elicitor (141)
35. Taxol Taxus chinensis fungal elicitation (142)
36. Taxol, baccatin III Taxus brevifolia,T. cuspidate Fungal elicitor (143, 144, 145)
37. Taxuyunnamine C Tc Taxus Chinensis Trifluoroethyl salicylate (TFESA) (60)
39. Tcibulin, tcibulin2 Allium cepa Ca
, cAMP (146)
40. Thiophene Tagetes patula Furasium conglutanis A. niger (94, 147)
41. Tropane alkaloids Brugmansia suaveolens Spodoptera frugiperda
Methyl jasmonate
42. -Thujaplicin Cupressus lusitanica Fungal and MeJA (30)

Table 5. Comparison of production of secondary metabolite after elicitation
Species Elicitor Products Product
concentration in
Product concentration
after elicitation
1. Capsicum annum
Trichoderma viride (crude) Capsidiol 0 1mg per flask (112)
2. Carthamus tinctorius Blue green algae (crude) Kinobeon A 0.6mg/L 5.78 mg/L (130)
3. Catharanthus roseus
(hairy roots)
Penicillium sp.
Alkaloids (indole) 3mg/gm
dry weight
dry weight
4. Catharanthus roseus
(Cell culture)
Alteromonas macleodii,
alginate oligomers
0.022 U/ml. to 0.235 U/ml. (105)

5. Catharanthus roseus (cells) Pythium sp. (crude) Ajmalicine 0 400mcg/L (106)
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6. Catharanthus roseus (cells) Trichoderma viride Ajmalicine 79 (g g

166 (g g

7. Catharanthus roseus (cells) Pythium aphanidermatum
Alkaloids (indole) 50mol/L 75mol/L (96)
8. Cupressus lusitanica suspension
fungal elicitor Beta-thujaplicin 0 187 mg/g dry weight (30)
9. Datura stramonium (cells) Phytopthora megasperma
Alkaloids (tropane) 0.85mg/gm
dry weight
4.27mg/gm dry weight (139)
10. Dioscorea deltoida (cells) Rhizopus arrhizus (crude) Diosgenin 134mg/L 230mg/L (32)
11. Eschscholtzia californica (cells) Yeast extract
Sanguinarine 20mg/L 60mg/L (130)
12. Hyoscyamus muticus
(hairy roots)
Rhizoctonia solani Sesquiterpenes 0 1mg per 10gm
fresh weight
13. Jimson weed
(hairy roots)
Copper sulphate Rishitin 0 traces (127)
14. Lithospermum erythrorhizon
Endogenous (crude) Shikonin 0 28gm/ 10ml (149)
15. Lotus corniculatus
(hairy roots)
Isoflavonoids 0 160 g /gm
fresh weight
16. Morinda citrifolia (cells) Chitin50 (pure) Anthraquinones 3g/gm
fresh weight
fresh weight
17. Nicotiana tabacum
(hairy roots)
Yeast extract Sesquiterpenes 1gm/gm
fresh weight
fresh weight
18. Nicotiana tabacum (cells) Phytopthora cryptogea (crude) Capsidiol 0 25g/ml (113)
19. Panax ginseng
(hairy roots)
selenium ginseng saponin control levels 1.33 times control
20. Papaver bracteatum (cells) Dendryphion
Sanguinarine 50g/gm
fresh weight
fresh weight
21. Sanguinaria canadensis (cells) Verticillium dahliae (cells) Dopamine 3mg/gm
fresh weight
15 mg/gm
fresh weight
22. Sanguinaria canadensis (cells) Verticillum dahliae
Sanguinarine 3g/gm
fresh weight
fresh weight
23. Tagetes patula
(hairy roots)
Furasium conglutanis
Thiophene 0.2gm per 100gm dry
0.55gm per 100gm dry
24. Tagetes patula
(hairy roots)
Aspergillus niger (crude) Thiophene 1.5mol/gm
dry weight
dry weight
25. Taxus chinensis
(Cell culture)
Trifluoroethyl salicylate
Taxuyunnanine C (Tc), 14.0 mg/gm dry
21.9 mg/gm dry weight (60)
26. Thalictrum rugosum (cells) Sacharomyces cerevisiae
Berberine 0.5% of
dry weight
2% of dry weight (149)
27. Thorn apple
(hairy roots)
Cadmium chloride Sesquiterpenes 0 140nmol/gm (127)

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substantial enhancement of product accumulation etc. has
been reported (90). Some of these parameters were
highlighted on elicitation of Catharanthus roseus cell
suspension cultures for the production of active compounds.
i) Elicitor concentration
Elicitor concentration plays a very important role in
elicitation process. Namdeo et. al. (10) reported higher
accumulation of ajmalicine in C. roseus cultures when treated
with different concentrations of elicitor extracts of T. viride,
A. niger and F. moniliforme. Ajmalicine accumulation was
higher in cells elicited with higher concentration (5.0 %) of
elicitor extracts as compared to lower concentration (0.5%).
However, increasing the concentration further upto 10.0 %
adversely affected the accumulation of ajmalicine. These
results are also supported by the findings of Nef-Campa et al.
(92), Rijhwani and Shanks (26). High dosage of elicitor has
been reported to induce hypersensitive response leading to
cell death, whereas, an optimum level was required for
induction (93-95).
ii) Duration of elicitor exposure
In a study, cells of C. roseus exposed with elicitor extracts of
T. viride, A. niger and F. moniliforme for 24h, 48h, 72h
and 96h. About 3-fold increase in ajmalicine production by C.
roseus cells elicited with extracts of T. viride for 48 h,
whereas, about two-fold increase was observed in cells
elicited with A. niger and F. moniliforme (10, 91). However,
further increasing exposure time resulted in decrease in
ajmalicine content. Similar results were reported by Rijhwani
and Shanks (26) Moreno and co-workers (96) and Negeral and
Javelle (97).
iii) Age of culture
Age of subculture plays is an important parameter in
production of bioactive compounds by elicitation. In a study,
C. roseus cells of 20-day-old cultures showed higher yields of
ajmalicine on elicitation. Highest ajmalicine (166 g
was accumulated in 20-day-old cells elicited with extracts
of T. viride followed by 90 and 88 g g
DW ajmalicine in
cells elicited with A. niger and F. moniliforme respectively
(10, 91). Similar observations were reported from various
workers Rijhwani and Shanks (98) Ganapathi and Kargi (90).
iv) Nutrient composition
Composition of medium or selection of medium also played a
vital role for elicitation process. Ajmalicine accumulation was
observed more in Zenks (99) production medium as compared
to Murashige and Skoogs (100) medium Namdeo et. al. (10,
91). Similar observations were reported from various workers
Rijhwani and Shanks (98) Ganapathi and Kargi (90).
Apart from these characteristics, the efficiency of elicitation
also depends on elicitor specificity, cell line or clones of
microbial elicitor used, presence of growth regulators,
nutrient composition of the medium, and the environmental
Elicitation and production of secondary metabolite by plant
cell cultures -
The living plants may be considered as a biochemical factory
not only for the production of primary metabolites like
sugars, amino acids and fatty acids but also for the production
of secondary products of pharmaceutical significance such as
alkaloids, glycosides, flavonoids, volatile oils, tannins, resins
etc. Secondary metabolites may represent chemical
adaptations to environmental stress, or they may serve as
defensive, protective or offensive chemicals against
microorganisms, insects and higher herbivorous predators.
They are some times considered to be waste or secretary
products of plant metabolism.
In spite of the progress made in organic synthesis or semi-
synthesis of a wide range of compounds similar to those
produced by the plants, extraction of secondary metabolites
from plants is still of considerable commercial importance. A
large number of these metabolites are difficult or virtually
impossible to synthesize at economic values. In several cases,
the natural product is more easily accepted by consumers
than an artificially produced one. Both reasons, objective and
subjective, explain that natural extraction still applies to a
large number of aromas or fragrances which are the result of
a mixture of hundreds of different compounds as is the case
of jasmine and strawberry, or to biochemicals that have
complex molecular structures (e.g. some alkaloids and
There is great interest in developing alternatives to the intact
plant for the production of plant secondary metabolites. This
originally had centered on the use of tissue and cell cultures
though the most recent approaches involve applying
molecular biology techniques to enhance the metabolic
pathways leading to specific compounds.
When infected by pathogenic microorganism plants, respond
with rapid activation of various spatially and temporally
regulated defense reactions. These responses include
oxidative cross linking of cell wall proteins, production of
phytoalexins, hydrolytic enzymes, incrustation of cell wall
proteins with phenolics and finally hypersensitive death of
plant cell. Microbial invasion of plants induce the synthesis of
anti-microbial secondary metabolites in the same way as
stress factors like UV-irradiation, osmotic shock, fatty acids,
inorganic salts and heavy metal ions induce the synthesis of
secondary metabolites in plants. The molecules that stimulate
the production of secondary metabolites are termed as
elicitors. Both biotic and abiotic elicitors induce product
accumulation not only in intact plants or plant organs but also
in plant cell cultures as a result of their defensive, protective
or offensive reactions (26-27, 30, 90, 98, 101-104). Table 4
illustrates different plant species producing various secondary
metabolites on elicitation with different elicitors.
Most of the strategies employing fungal elicitors utilize fairly
undefined mixtures such as autoclaved fungal homogenate
(151) or fungal culture filtrates (61, 152). With the
consideration of several parameters such as elicitor
specificity and concentration, duration of contact and quality
of cell wall materials, substantial enhancement of product
accumulation has been reported (90). The enhancement of
production of secondary metabolites after elicitation is
compared with that of control is exhibited in Table 5.
Secondary metabolites or bioactive constituents or phyto-
pharmaceuticals occurring in intact plants are employed
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either directly or indirectly by a large number of
pharmaceutical industries. The supply of these secondary
metabolites is however, often having many limitations. It is
widely recognized that cultured plant cells represents a
potential source of phyto-pharmaceuticals but very few cell
cultures synthesize secondary metabolites in comparison to
those produced in intact plants. Over few decades many
strategies like media manipulation, phyto-hormone
regulation, precursor feeding, plant cell immobilization,
biotransformation and bioconversion, hairy root cultures and
genetically modified cells etc. have been tried but failed to
synthesize the desired products in appreciable quantity and at
competitive economic value. This reflects the poor
understanding of basic secondary metabolic regulation in
plant cell cultures. Elicitation of plant cell culture system
may be promising as it showed favorable results in
fermentation of antibiotics and many other fermented
products. Though, elicitation enhances secondary metabolism
in plants or plant cells in vitro but the exact mechanism of
elicitation is not exactly understood. This provides an
opportunity for intensive research in the field of biosciences
for exploitation of plant cells for the production of secondary
metabolites. Combined efforts of experts of Plant science,
Pharmacognosy, Microbiology, Phyto-chemistry, Biochemistry,
Molecular biology, and Fermentation technology can exploit
the potential of plant cells for the production of plant
secondary metabolites.
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